Tuesday, July 31

Random Updates

Bailey, during her after supper stretch and rest session.
Bailey, my outdoor cat, has been a daily visitor here for the past month. Before that, she would come and go and I would not see her for days at a time. Unlike Kitty, who lived in the upper barn, Bailey doesn't seem to have any set sleeping place. However, she now shows up like clockwork for supper and is waiting for me in the garden in front of the big barn around 6pm.

Bailey is tiny - either from being young or from malnutrition I am not sure, but she seems healthy otherwise and I do not notice any visible physical problems. She will let me get about 4 or 5 feet from her but I can tell she is curious and that it is just a matter of time before she will let me scratch her behind the ears.

If there is anything left in the bowl after Bailey is finished, I can pretty much count on this little raccoon coming around to gobble up the leftovers.

I am seeing more and more wildlife in the yard this season that I think I have seen since we have been here. I welcome most of them - even the raccoons when they stay away from the chickens feed. Most notably, I have seen more bunnies moving in and we have different varieties of birds also making appearances. The blue birds have nested here for the second year in a row and this was the first year we have also had house wrens nesting in one of the houses. Goldfinches have been appearing for the last two seasons when I have not seen any since we moved here. And I found this house finch pecking in the garden the other day.

With the garden fence up, the peas and other apparent woodchuck favorites are making the best comeback they can. I still do have Ma and Pa woodchuck along with numerous offspring keeping house under the garden shed, and they are letting me know their displeasure with the all you can eat salad buffet cut-off. I used a bucket full of rocks (who doesn't have a bucket full of rocks sitting around?) to fill in one their entrance holes only to find the next day that they had not only cleared that hole but added a new one for good measure.

I'm going to need more rocks.

A few weeks ago we had quite a big wind storm and a few miles up the road one side of a massive maple tree couldn't take the pressure. That entire side turned out  to be pretty much sawdust inside and upon seeing these completely hallowed out sections of stump, I could only think one thing: planters!

I stopped and asked the owner if I could take them and we loaded up as many as we could on the trailer. I am letting them sit in the side field for the winter to make sure anything still living in them has vacated the premises and I am going to give them a good dusting of DT earth in the fall just to make sure. They will be part of my new herb/medicinal garden section next spring.

The chicks are chicks no more. Although they are not quite as big as the ladies in the existing flock, I have no doubt that they can hold their own. When I go into their area, the rush me and cautiously circle my feet. As soon as I turn my back, they are right on my heels.

The night before last I hauled out the portable fencing and made them a big outdoor run, using their chicken tractor and the long length of woodpile as additional walls. They now have a large grassy area to roam in all day and they still get locked up in the tractor at night. A netting roof was hastily installed after one of the girls took flight in her new found freedom.

I went out this morning to open the tractor and saw they someone had layed an egg, which all six of them were pecking into oblivion. One night this week they will go to bed in the tractor and wake up in the coop with 11 laying hens.

While on the topic of poultry, we lost one of the flock to what I assume to be natural causes yesterday. I found her nestled under one of the nest boxes with no outward signs of trauma. The rest of the flock is still happily laying waste to my grass. Every time I go out to the run I am reminded of the scene from Independence Day: "If you calculate the time it takes to destroy a city and move on, we're looking at the worldwide destruction of every major city in the next 36 hours."

This fall when the fenced in garden is done, I am going to turn them loose and let them cultivate.

Monday, July 30

Living our Lives and Saying our Prayers

It has been quite a long weekend here with so much packed into each day that it is a big blur of activity, emotion and general exhaustion.

I had been calling the jury duty hot line all last week to receive instructions on the selection process. I had a high number - in the 800's - so I was pretty sure that I would not be called to come in. After calling at 12:45 and 5:30 every day, I thought I was safe by the time Thursday night rolled around. No such luck. I was ordered to report and be in my chair with a sharpened #2 pencil at 8:30 am on the dot, Friday morning.

OK, they said nothing about the pencil, but I still felt like I was in high school again.

Roy had to take the day off of work to watch the kids and I fought morning rush hour traffic to get into the city, found a parking space in a very over-priced parking garage, and spent the next 2 hours sitting in a very uncomfortable chair. I filled out a lengthy questionnaire concerning my opinions on asbestos, the US Navy, company rights and if pain and suffering was a legitimate reason to sue someone.

We were then dismissed until 2pm so I went home, ate lunch, cleaned up, stressed myself out, and drove back to the city. Another expensive parking garage spot and another uncomfortable chair to sit in for the next 2 1/2 hours.

At 4pm, I, along with about 35 other people who were left out of the original 300 or so, were dismissed and thanked for our service. Based on the surveys, we would not be questioned as potential jurors. Great, but couldn't you have just told us that and let the 35 of us go at 2:01 instead of making us sit there for 2 1/2 hours when you didn't want to talk with us anyway?

On the bright side, it is here that I must publicly thank my husband for the years of constant prattling on about asbestos and all its uses, problems, regulations, removal requirements, side effects and general nastiness. I honestly answered all of the survey questions which made me sound like an asbestos expert. All those years of listening to Roy's boring work related stories of asbestos paid off and I was not selected for what would have been a very lengthy and very complicated civil trial.

Given that this past week was so up in the air as far as daily plans go, I had a full weekend planned with visits to friends and errands. I spent Saturday morning puttering around the yard cleaning up various messes, wringing my hands over the poor performance of this years vine crops and cleaning up the remains from the latest round of "late night raccoon garbage feasting". Lunch and early afternoon were spent at my friends home - the friend I helped earlier this year with her very first garden - and I was eager to see her progress.

She had done very well and we picked some ripe tomatoes, carrots, peppers and beets. We also dug a small exploratory hole into a mound of potato plants and saw that her red potatoes were doing nicely. It was great to spend time with her and her family and to sit with their big husky 'Tahoe'. I miss having a dog and Tahoe is the sweetest husky around. Even the baby loved him and he was very tolerant of the fur pulling.

Saturday evening was spent with another friend I had not seen in a while and we passed the time at the local Ihop discussing our kids, her job, my chickens and the general state of things. An after dinner trip to the Goodwill resulted in her taking home a 1960's edition of the Life board game in great condition (the doctors salary was $10,000 per year!!!) and I scored a 1970's edition of Parcheesi - my favorite game - in perfect, never really used condition.

I arrived home after dark to find that Roy had already taken care of the chickens, the little man was in bed, and he had even fed our outdoor stray cat, Bailey. He collected 10 perfect eggs from the ladies to boot.

Sunday was to be filled with the errands and some chores, as are most Sunday's here. The little man and I were out on the front porch around 8am enjoying the cool morning air before the humidity set in, when we heard some fire truck sirens out on the main road. Not 10 minutes later, there was a constant stream of cars on our road and we learned that there had been a terrible accident on the main road. Traffic was being diverted and we left for errands unable to observe anything due to the detour.

After our grocery shopping we turned on teh car radio and learned what had happened. A motorcycle had hit a bicyclists and knocked her into the path of a car. She very sadly passed away at the hospital. The motorcyclist had very serious injuries. Watching news reports later we learned that the driver of the car was drunk (at 8am!!) and the motorcycle rider, who was a friend of the car driver, was driving recklessly and trying to pass on the right when he hit the bicycle.

Traffic was diverted down our road all day as the police conducted their investigation and friends of the cyclist were gathered at the site as well. So heartbreaking and horrible. I thought about that poor woman's family all day.

I tend to complain a little more than I should about things here on our little farm. I lose sight of what is important sometimes and I hate to say that it takes things like this event to shake me back, but knowing that life is so fragile really hits home. You can do everything right - pay attention, obey the rules, be a good person - and something can still happen that can change your life or your family's lives forever.

Two children are going to bed without their mother tonight. I am asking everyone who reads my blog to say a little prayer for them during your day. I did not know her and you probably didn't either but I don't think that matters. She was a lady out for a bike ride on a beautiful Sunday morning, enjoying her life, enjoying the same cool morning air that I was enjoying less than a mile away.

I am giving thanks tonight, and sending a prayer too.

Sunday, July 29

Sweet Peas

I love sweet peas, but I don't at the same time. So nice to look at but so hard to keep in check.

I see the sweet peas coming up, both in places where I planted them and in places I did not. The places where I started the seeds look great - full, spreading visions of vine, leaves and flowers in different stages of blossom. These are manageable and I enjoy them. Where I did not plant them is where the trouble starts.

They are still very pretty - the one that appeared next to the catnip, black eyed susan and sedum plants is beautiful as it winds up the catnip plant, now flowering. The bees and birds like it and it looks nice on the home made support I constructed for it to climb up.

But it is killing the mums and toppling the black eyed susans. Refusing to be content on the support, it seems to be strangling a new plant every day. Definitely one of those plants that you have to keep on top of as far as pruning goes.

Next season will require a taller trellis, or more aggressive pruning.

Thursday, July 26

The Button Flag

Made around the 1940 from buttons made in the USA!

Wednesday, July 25

Basic Soil Test

I decided to do a basic, at home soil test just to see what was going on with my dirt. I have come to know it through the 7 years we have been here and it is, if anything, full or surprises. One season it tills well and produces and the next year it form itself into crunchy clumps that the seeds can break through. As for additional little surprises, I find all sorts of things every year from spent bullet casings to odd bits of metal to oyster shells to pottery.

Immediately after shaking
Given that I failed both math and science numerous times in school, suggestions involving anything sounding scientific comes into my brain as the teacher from Charlie Brown. Or I sense incomprehension coming and start humming the Walton's theme song in my head.

I went for this basic test - Mason jar with a lid, an old measuring cup and some water. That is science I can cope with.

After it has settled.

Take 1/4 cup of soil from the garden and mix it with 2 cups of water in the mason jar.
Put the top on tight and shake well.
Allow it to settle. (I let it sit for about a half hour)
Shake it again.
Put the jar in a place where it will remain still for 5 to 7 days. You will see the soil settle into layers and the water will be as clear as it can be in a jar full of dirt.

The bottom layer should be small rocks
The next layer up should be fine sand
The next layer up should be silt
The next layer up should be clay
Then the little root pieces and things that float, and then the rest should be water.

What you want to see are layers that are 2/5ths sand, 2/5ths silt and the rest is clay. This means you have loam which is the best soil. Lets just say that I don't have loam.

If half of your sediment is sand then you have light sandy soil.
If over half of your sediment is silt with a little clay then you have heavy silt soil.

If more than 1/4 of your sediment is clay and you have lots of silt then your soil is considered clay.

After turning the jar around and observing the sediment, I think my dirt falls into the heavy silt category. Observations and conclusions - sounds like I just did a little science.

Tuesday, July 24

Quick Garden Shots

A male house finch looking for a snack


The lettuce has recovered from the bunny/woodchuck attack.

Saturday, July 21

"I didn't like hoeing the garden! I went out there to get away from you kids!"

When I was a little kid, my Dad worked at a factory for 12 hours a day. He would come home, have a snack, and then, more days than not, he would go out to the garden and weed or inspect or harvest.

I was young but I remember this - and even though high school Dad always had something growing in the back yard. In hind sight, I wish I would have shown more interest. Maybe I would have had more direction in my life then if I had explored and discovered what today gives me so much happiness.

When I stated vegetable gardening about 10 years ago, I would go to my dad and ask him questions about corn planting, potato hills, how far to space pumpkins, etc. and he would always try to help and give advice. It was never in a preaching, extended diatribe. It was short and to the point and he never made me feel like an idiot for not knowing things.

With all this, I was always under the impression that Dad loved gardening. When he was a teenager he worked on local farms and rented land to farm for himself - selling the produce to local restaurants. I have pictures of him on a tractor, plowing a very large field and I remember eating ears of sweet corn every summer that we had just went out in the back yard to pick.

So I was quite surprised, and a bit hurt, when one day over an inspection of my drooping tomato plants Dad told me the reason he gardened. After high school, Dad started working at the factory for 12 hours a day. He still works at the same factory today, with less hours. The reason that Dad went out to the back field when he got home from those 12 hour days was not for a love of gardening. I am sure at one point - with the huge fields and making an income from it - he did enjoy it and he has told me so. But after my brother and I came along, Dad gardened to get away from us.

"I didn't like hoeing the garden! I went out there to get away from you kids!"

Apparently my brother and I, once we hit the ages of 4 and 2, were not the most obedient and good natured of children. I do not think it was coincidence that my maternal Grandparents, who lived less than a mile away, moved over an hour away when I hit the age of three.

And as I am coming to discover myself what that means with the little man almost 3 and a half and the baby going on 8 months, the time spent in the peace and quiet of the garden ripping weeds out by the handfuls is a part of the day that I covet. Not that I particularly like weeding, but at least I do actually like gardening. I can take a seed smaller than the baby's pinkie toe nail, plant it in some rich dark soil, give it water and light and care, and I am rewarded with a bright green sprout of hope. Much like a little offspring, only the sprout doesn't talk back and have accidents in its underwear.

Plants in my garden don't talk back. They don't complain and they don't get jealous of the time spent with other plants. Plants are quiet and consistent and promising. You know that when you plant a tomato seedling in time you will get tomatoes. You can raise a child thinking he will be a rocket scientist and you could get a three time felon in the state pen. A tomato will always be a tomato.

So I can see my Dad's point in all this. I can see that getting out and away is something that everyone needs, even after a long day at work. And I am not denying the truth of his logic. I have come to agree wholeheartedly.

This is not to say that I do not love my children. Not at all. I love when the little man and I do something fun in the garden - this year he has his own little patch of earth where he planted peas, beans, onions, broccoli and a pumpkin. Yes, it is kind of weedy, but he shows everyone who comes over his "very first plant!"

I try to look at my excursions in the garden as more of a stress reduction exercise. No amount of money could be paid to someone to sit and listen to my problems that would equal the satisfaction I get from ripping out weeds with reckless abandon and hearing the root systems being dislodged from the garden soil. It is a feeling of accomplishment. No matter how many times I try and fail to get the baby to eat peas; no matter how many times I tell the little man not to slam the door and hearing it slam 3 seconds later; no matter how much selective listening has become an art form in this house: I can weed a row of beans, stand up, turn around and I have a clean row of weeded beans. No argument, no crying, task completed. Satisfaction and accomplishment.

And immediate gratification.

Wednesday, July 18

Early Camping

I like looking at these pictures of my Great Grandparents on one of thier camping trips. They liked to travel, and take pictures. These are from sometime in the mid-1920's.

Monday, July 16

One Point For Me

Yesterday while doing some odd yard work chores I found where the raccoons got into the main shed the other night. Right in the corner of the window where there is mesh and wire and other things slightly obstructing the view. I immediately whipped out the staple gun and remedied the situation, along with checking the other screened windows and reinforcing them just to be safe.

I wanted to spin the staple gun around on my index finger when i was finished and holster it on my hip. I am finally on the board - raccoons, 5 points, homesteader, 1.

Please ignore the poop - I cleaned off what I could before
taking this picture. The raccoons left a deposit on their way out.

This morning I stepped out the back door and had humidity and heat slap me in the face once again. It is going to be another hot day here, and it is July so it is not a huge shock. But we do need the rain and a little break from these temperatures. Surprised at my sudden appearance, I watched a lone chipmunk execute a perfect swan drive from the bird feeder, landing five feet down in the pachysandra.

I approached the main shed and coop with a little apprehension - what would I find today? Spilled feeders? Toppled storage containers? Raccoon poop?


They didn't get in - although I can see where they tried through the chicken wire window again. Just the smallest indentation in the corner where I can only imagine they tried to push their little noses through and decided it just wasn't worth it. (I had noted some raccoon fur caught on the sharp edges of the wire where they had made it in the first time).

The chicks in their "deer in the headlight" stare.
I let the ladies out into the sunshine with much clucking and shuffling underfoot, retrieved the feeder for the chicks from the covered bin, and headed over to the tractor to let  the little girls out for the day.

I noticed that "something" had tried to dig under the tractor - a half hearted effort that resulted in nothing but a slight dirt impression in the ground. I must have weakened their spirits with my stellar reinforcement of the window wire and they just didn't have the heart to try anymore.

A good way to start the day, given that it is one of house cleaning and general stay at home Mom/homesteader/housewife jobs and tasks.

Saturday, July 14

Raccoon Poop and Lessons Learned

For the latest addition in my ongoing raccoon saga, I shall tell you about this mornings discoveries. I had that tractor locked up tighter than a drum. Chicks safely in the nest box and feeder removed and placed in the shed for the night. My confidence was up and I went to bed.

This morning the tractor was undisturbed! I let the chicks out and went to the shed to fetch their feeder.

Smart raccoons had gotten into the main shed.

They had somehow found a hole small enough to squeeze through and made their way through rafters and cubby holes to the coop. And there they had a little holiday with not only the chick feeder but the feeders for the main flock as well. I think they were flaunting their success in that after spilling and eating the food from three feeders and the bin where the crumble dust is kept, they scattered it around the floor and pooped right in the middle of it.

I kind of just stood in the shed and let out a big sigh. This has been a lesson for me - for the importance of proper planning, anticipating trouble spots (like using the mesh netting instead of chicken wire in the first place), and never underestimating the ability of a raccoon to get into just about any space at any time.

I may have gotten a little worked up yesterday with the 99 cent eggs and such, but instead of calling the central air install guy I just let out that sigh and refilled the feeders. Every little trick I pick up from having all these experiences will help me in the long run. Next time I build a chicken tractor I will know so much more about what to do and what not to do. And so many little items that are usually common sense, like locking up the feeders or making the food harder to get to have been reinforced for me. Little things that I let slide sometimes end up costing me money - having to buy more chicken feed, having to buy more parts for the tractor, etc.

Tonight I made sure things were locked up and secure. I know I have done everything I can and that is all I can do. This whole thing has taught me so many little lessons and although frustrating and annoying and at times embarrassing, I must admit that on some level I appreciate the knowledge.

Don;t worry readers, I will not dwell on the raccoons any longer, unless they do something dramatic. So many nice things happened today that I would rather think on tonight: we attended a family reunion today and I saw people I have not seen in many years, from which I picked up some great genealogy information and photos. I also received an email today from someone I had made a birthday gift for - some knitted socks and a hat. She emailed to thank me and tell me how much she liked them which gave a bright spot to my day.

So, unless the raccoons manage to completely tare down the shed tonight, tomorrows post should be about something unrelated to nighttime predators.

And Yet Again.....

They got in.


Smart little buggers.

They dug a hole under the pen, crawled in and feasted on the chick food. I was so confident in my netting that I had left the feeder in the tractor instead of removing it to the shed for the night. It was my way of flaunting my chicken wire and staple gun skills; my little way to give them the middle farming finger.  And all last night while I slept, they were enjoying yet another free meal. In effect, giving me the little raccoon finger.

It didn't work.

They got in.


After the previous weeks of high heat, oppressive humidity, drought, woodchucks, the fox, the slowing of egg production and the raccoon fiasco, I have just about had enough. Add to all that a 3 1/2 year old little boy who skipped the terrible two's and is dishing out a double dose of the terrible three's and myself being 25lbs overweight and winded after walking up the stairs with a laundry basket, I am one unhappy homesteader.

I want central air. I want a yard-wide sprinkler system like on a Las Vegas golf course. I want white eggs from the grocery store that go on sale for 99 cents per dozen. I don;t want to spend my budget money on fencing and chick feed and organic fertilizer. I'm done.

Do you think anyone would read a blog about 99 cent eggs?

Friday, July 13

"Yes, those are raccoons."

Two nights ago at nearly dark, I went out to close the coop door on the main building and raise the ramp in the tractor to secure the young chicks for the night.

Main building, no problem. All hens roosting comfortably.

As I approached the chicken tractor I head a rustling on tree branches and a sort of chittering squeak. Since I did not have a flashlight with me I wasn't taking any chances and I went back to the house to get Roy's big black and rather heavy flashlight from the coat closet. I wanted to see what I was up against and if necessary, have something with which to defend myself.

I walked back out to the tractor shining the beam of light around on the ground and then on the tractor itself. The chicks all seemed to be inside the nest box but there were a pair of bright beady little yes glowing at me from the ground inside the tractor.

An adolescent raccoon had made his way inside the tractor and was munching away on the chicken food that he had spilled from the overturned feeder. He made no move to run as I advanced towards him and kept on eating. Then I noticed a second raccoon, just the same size as the first, perched on top of on e of the heavy pieces of fencing outside the tractor. He didn't move either as I jogged back to the house to get Roy. Knowing that these small raccoons were the ones causing all the trouble of the past week, with the tractor anyway, was a relief. I had been dreading that it was the fox coming back. Now I was so happy it was not the fox that I was excited about the fact that there were two cute little fuzzy coons hanging around the tractor.

My Aunt and Uncle had four pet raccoons that they raised from babies. They lived in the house and were for the most part like very large house cats. I could see, looking at these two little guys, the appeal of having one curl up on your lap on a cold January evening.

Aunt Sandy with one of their pet raccoons.
I got Roy outside and he was not excited, not annoyed, but mostly complacent. "Yes, those are raccoons."

I had him hold the flashlight while I advanced toward the tractor thinking they would run as I got closer and i could retrieve the spilled feeder and secure the ramp for the night. But they didn't budge. I had no desire to get bitten so I just stood there wondering what to do next in my raccoon showdown.

It was then that I noticed a third little guy who had managed to get himself stuck in between the netting and one of the walls of the nest box. He had squished himself as flat as a pancake with little feet and claws digging into the wood. Luckily the netting had some give to it and Roy was able to show him the way out with some gentle prodding with one of my wooden garden stakes.

The problem soon became evident that we now had three not very scared raccoons hanging about the chicken tractor in the dark. We manged to get two of them to scoot into the tall grass with a little noise and flashlight waving but the third had jumped down from the heavy fencing and sat in the grass staring at me as I reached in and grabbed the feeder. I could see the hold where they had destroyed the netting and gained entry. I forgot about closing the ramp knowing that the raccoons would not bother the chickens and we said goodnight to all involved and went back to the house.

Yesterday afternoon the baby and I purchased a roll of 4' chicken wire and a box of staples for my staple gun. The mash netting was going to be replaced with chicken wire even though I do not like working with it. I always end up with scrapes and cuts and uneven edges in the finished product, but at this point wire was needed and chicken wire was the option in our overextended chicken care budget.

After Roy arrived home from work yesterday and dinner was done, I got on my work clothes and prepared to do battle with the unruly chicken wire. I was not going to go one more night with intrusions and food stealing.

I measured each section of the tractor so I could make all the cuts beforehand and have each piece ready. I was going to have to remove some of the sections of netting from the inside before I installed the chicken wire on the outside of the frame. It is a long story as to why I had to do this, mostly due to my late addition of a nest box after I had attached the netting in the first place.

I was able to get two sides of the wire installed and things were going a little easier than I had anticipated. The heat and humidity were not as bad as they had been during the day but I was still sweating up a storm. I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to get very dirty and just let it happen.

Half way through the project I got three spectators - Roy, the little man and the baby came out to watch and offer helpful suggestions.

Just before dark while being bitten by mosquitoes I drove the last staple home and called it a night. Try to claw through that you disrespectful young raccoons!!

Thursday, July 12

Acrobatics, Naughty Language and the Ill-fated Chicken Tractor Project

The sometimes sad, sometimes comical, sometimes stressful and always evolving saga of the chicken tractor has been the main focus here. From the moment I had the idea "hey, I should build a chicken tractor so the new chicks can finish growing up outside!" till tonight, when in the very, very last shreds of sunset light I entertained a standoff with two adolescent raccoons, this project has been most aggravating.

From the most basic of good intentions and small construction project to a stressful and continuous work in progress also currently involving acrobatics and some nasty language on my part, this entire escapade has taught me one lesson: hire a professional.

A short review:

- Decide to build simple chicken tractor so new chicks can be outside to finish growing up.
- Gather parts and materials from around the farm and from Tractor Supply with no blueprint
- Wing it with power tools and 2 x 4's until I have something that looks surprisingly like a chicken tractor
- Remember that the chicks will need somewhere to go into at night so add a nest box area inside tractor
- Need a ramp for chicks to get into nest box
- Tractor is heavy
- Wheels don't work right
- More alterations
- Wheels work ok

OK, now we are up to speed.

I had moved the tractor to a fresh patch of grass the other day and filled the food and water before bed when I cared for the rest of the main flock. The next morning I noticed that the food dispenser was tipped over and food was scattered all over the grass. The girls were all still there and unharmed so I thought they just got a little crazy overnight during a possible midnight snack attempt.

The next morning lead to the same result and I noticed that something had been digging all around the base of the tractor - like whatever it was was testing different spots looking for a place they could get in. The largest hole was no bigger than a golf ball so I did not think anything was able to get in. And the girls were all fine. I then noticed that the mesh netting was a little loose and I discovered that it was indeed very loose in some places and there was a hole about the size of a softball in the mesh at one end, near the bottom.

At this point I was getting very discouraged, annoyed and generally angry. What else was going to happen with the ill-fated chicken tractor project? All my best intentions at the beginning were resulting in nothing but aggravation and disappointment.

This now begins the all or nothing crazy behavior that takes over a small farmer in moments of desperation - either real or slightly exaggerated.

I crawled into the tractor and removed the food and water dispensers. I crawled around on things I would rather not mention, grabbing each chicken and putting them up into the next box so I could safely move the tractor. I hooked it up to the lawn mower and moved the tractor into the portable open top chicken pen area and blocked the main flock into their covered outdoor pen.

All this time, the baby was in her yard stroller having a fabulous time watching me and the chickens. She loves the chickens, the lawn mower and watching Mom crawl around in chicken poop uttering naughty words.  And, by this time, it was getting late and my vocabulary was getting quite diverse. )Lets just hope her first word is something nice like "kitty" or "Mama").  I knew I was going to have to replace the netting with metal chicken wire. I also knew that I was going to have to start locking the chicks in the nest box every night. I had no idea what was getting in and getting the chickens so riled up that they spilled the food dispenser, but I wasn't taking any more chances.

In order to resolve the un-secure loose netting problem for the night, I placed three heavy sides of the old portable pen that came with the farm along three sides of the tractor. These are durable, heavy, metal and wood frames. I secured them to the tractor with an assortment of bungee cords, spare rope pieces, industrial clips and a cement patio block.

It looked absolutely ridiculous and I worried all night that something would still get through my defenses.

The next morning i commenced the acrobatic movements necessary to get over the fencing and ropes to let the chicks out of the nest box. Something had STILL managed to get into the food and it was scattered all over the grass.

This continued for a couple nights but the chicks were safe and that was what I cared about. I needed to wait a few days to have the supplies and the time to re-do the netting.

And then the raccoons  made themselves known..........

Wednesday, July 11

Just Some Flowers....

I fully expected to get sprayed from behind after I turned away
from taking this picture.

Tuesday, July 10

Preventing Garden Pilfering

This evening the little man and I made yet another trip to Tractor Supply. This time for fencing materials and chicken feed. He was quite helpful and actually pushed the cart with two large bags of chicken feed all by himself - a job that he insisted he could do as I was trying to figure out how to get two very heavy carts to the checkout.

I decided on the Red Brand welded wire fencing - 48 in. x 100 ft. I bought four Studded T Posts for the corners (6-1/2 ft) and twelve light duty fence posts (5ft) for the spaces in between. I wanted to get the heavy duty posts for the entire fence but it was just not in the budget. Also not in the budget were any type of metal fasteners to attach the fencing to the posts so we ended up using heavy duty zip ties that we already had at the house.

It was late when we started since we waited for the baby to fall asleep so we were fighting daylight and mosquitoes. But I could not stand one more night of garden raids on what little I had left. Roy and the little man were up for the challenge.

This is not the way I wanted to go about this project - I was planning on saving up and hiring someone to construct my dream fence some day. More out of want than out of necessity. But with each season bringing on more and more garden pilfering, I went with what we could afford and construct ourselves.

That said, it is a good fence that does its job. You can't say that about many products lately.

Little man and I had measured before we went to the store and, given some grass space on all four sides of the garden for maneuvering the tiller and walking space, we totalled up 2 sides at 50' and 2 sides at 47'.

First we made sure that we had our measurements right and Roy pounded in each corner post with the sledgehammer. Then we strung a line of string from each corner post to the next, making sure we were square and lined up. Roy pounded in each of the spacing posts - two on the shorter side and three on the longer, evenly spaced. The other long side has four spacer posts to allow for a gate of some kind.

After the posts were all in Roy started unrolling the fencing, started at one of the corner posts. As he unrolled and pulled, I fastened the fencing to each post using the zip ties. It was hard going - the fence was very heavy and he was pulling it tight by hand.

We decided against using any type of pulling leverage since we did not want to bend the corner posts. He did a good job of holding it tight until I got it all tied and little man was the official zip tie holder - handing them over one by one for each post.

We kept unrolling and fastening all the way around the square - even over where the gate was going to be. It was getting a little dark and as we were using zip ties, it would be easy for us to come back and re-work the gate area. We were about a foot short on the end and it was near bedtime for little man. We used a spare piece of garden netting to temporarily cover the space and when we re-do the gate, we will have enough to finish up.
Getting the fence up was the main priority and the details can wait a little.

All in all, i am pleased with how it looks and I am glad that I left room for a little grass space on the inside. I think I will be able to make a great garden space inside the 100' square and I will try to keep the most tempting treats growing inside the protection of the galvanized metal in future seasons.

Sunday, July 8

Groundhogs Behaving Badly

So cute, I know. And still too young to be afraid of angry gardeners. Or maybe they are just hard of hearing.

In any case, these two groundhogs have been decimating my beans, peas and broccoli so far this season. And there are surely more of them. A furry invasion force, so cute, but so stealth. I have no problem with a nibble here and there, a missing pea pod or a half chewed bean. And this is why I have resisted fencing in my vegetable garden. In past years lossed have been minimal to just tollerable.

What I do have a problem with is losing all four rows of beans and peas and all but one broccoli plant to these bottomless pits. And the last broccoli plant is on life support as it is.

I caught these two in the garden this morning and I was able to get very close to them sneaking up on my bare feet.

They did not notice when I snapped the camera and kept munching away - one on clover in the grass by the raised beds and the other up on hind legs loudly chomping on a pea vine.

A listened to the one chewing on the peas and knew that a fence was in my future. My very near future.

With that, I said "Excuse me! What do you think you are doing?!!?" The one in the clover took off and dove under my garden shed.

The second one just kept eating!

He got down on all fours and nibbled on a fallen pea pod, but he stood his ground. I was about 3 feet from him when he finally decided I was a threat and juggled his furry little body across the garden.
I watched his hind end disappear under the garden shed and upon further inspection, they have not one but FOUR holes dug to access the underside of the shed.

The fuzzy hind end scrambling to get under the shed.

Without getting a flashlight and sticking it in the holes, I am going to assume they are living under there.

Great. This is just great.

Drought. Fox. Groundhogs. Poor germination.

I think tomorrow I will watch for the cloud of locusts.

As for the fence, I know that I will be installing one as soon as possible. And I also know that it will not be the fence of my dreams. It will be a quick fence - most likely heavy wire and metal posts with a crude door. If I am to get anything from the garden this year, I must cut off the groundhogs free salad bar less than 6 feet from their back door.

Saturday, July 7

Caught on Film!

Well, on digital memory card anyway.

This morning I was in the dining room at about 7am when I saw something furry run across the front yard. Not a dog, too big for a cat. Coyote? Fox?

A fox. I saw him slinking through my side yard working his way through the garden in a round about way towards the chicken pen.

Right now I should type "I grabbed my shotgun and let him have it" but what actually happened was I grabbed my camera, took his picture and then yelled at him. This made him run, obviously, but I kept the ladies in the covered fenced in run today just in case.

I got a picture of him trotting around the side yard, thinking about his approach.

He then wandered up and down the rows of potato plants and onion shoots and went around the back of the garden shed, out the other side and into the high field. I saw him sitting in there chewing on something. I remembered that Roy had put the remains of the chickens from the other day in the field, but not far enough in.

This fox either an innocent bystander who smelled the chicken or he was the criminal returning to the scene of the crime to search for leftovers. There is no way of knowing if this is the fox that got the chickens in the first place.

I have not seen a fox out during the day very many times. I have seen them when scared from a hiding place or at the very last night of dusk, but not wandering around in the broad daylight looking for a meal.

Does anyone know much about the habits of the fox?

Friday, July 6

On Guard

It has been a very discouraging couple of days here at the farm. The drought we are experiencing is making everything in the garden look wilted and miserable, even after daily sprinkler use. Despite the heat, the weeds seem to be thriving and if I look at my garden from a distance I can pretend that all those green weeds are green vegetables. I am calling it my Picasso garden - great from a distance but a huge mess close up.

I went out the other evening to harvest my first batch of lettuce - ever. This is the first year i have tried to grow lettuce in an amount that I could make a salad or two a couple times a week. I put it in one of the raised beds and about half of it germinated. I was very pleased to see some great looking lettuce heads take shape and it was now time to harvest. I marched out to the garden in the evening hours after some of the heat had passed with a clean bucket and some shears.

Someone had beat me to it.

Despite having netting over both of the raised beds, one end of the bed with the lettuce, radishes and carrots had come loose. And someone took advantage of this equipment malfunction. I am thinking it must have been one of the bunnies I have seen hopping around the yard. All the heads were nibbled and sampled down to the point where nothing could be salvaged. And I was not going to serve Roy the bunny's leftovers.

I was extremely disappointed and angry. Roy came out to see how things looked and noticed that something had also been in the peas. The day before I had observed nice rip pods almost ready to be picked. One more day i thought and I would have my first shelling peas.

Again, too late. Something came in and at the tops off the half the beans, some of the peas, and most of the pea pods. Roy could tell I was pretty mad and offered his condolences: "All that hard work... sorry." Trust me, this is Roy at his most heartfelt. (When we lost the chick to the chicken tractor incident he knew how upset I was and offered the sincere comment that my climbing white roses looked nice.)

Completed and totally discouraged, but still determined to succeed, I cut a new section of netting for the end of the raised bed and made sure it was nice and secure. I then went around each bed and made sure that all the clips and nails were in place and that the netting was in order.

Satisfied that I had done all i could to prevent another salad bar give away, I clipped some leaves from the potted spinach and pulled an onion. I felt good in that i was able to harvest something.

Later that evening I went out to take care of the chickens for the night and I knew something was not right. The ladies were skittish and jumpy, even after I offered them their bread scraps. It was then I noticed the wing in the grass pen area.

Long story short, something had gotten two of the ladies. One was still inside the outdoor run on the ground, still mostly whole, but definitely dead. The second chicken's wing and torso were in the grassy area with nothing else left. I called Roy out to help me remove the chickens and to search around for what might have done this - between the time I was in the garden earlier and at present. We did not hear any noise from the coop and had no indication that anything was wrong.

Roy found some "droppings" inside the grassy area. Not only did whatever this was kill two of my ladies, they also had the audacity to poop in the run! Roy said it looked to be fox or coyote droppings - both of which are in our area.

I searched the coop for any signs of loose boards or broken fencing but there was nothing out of place. We think that a very hungry fox or coyote had been daring enough to come out while daylight still hung faintly in the air and catch his dinner.  I checked over the remaining 12 ladies and they were shaken but unharmed. I made sure they had plenty of food and water and shut them in the coop for the night. I also checked on the 6 chicks in the tractor and they were all fine. No sign of anything even trying to get at them.

I'm on my guard tonight!

Monday, July 2

She Likes Chickens

The other day I had 14 babysitters. Fourteen very entertaining babysitters.

It turns out that the baby loves chickens. Which is good for her since she will be helping care for them when she is old enough and good for me because I can let her be entertained while I do garden work. Better then television and I get work done. I do not feel bad about this.

So I parked the baby by the chicken pen in her stroller. She chatted with the chickens while I weeded and mulched. I have no idea what they were talking about but between her squawks and their peeping and cawing I can only assume that they were discussing my lack of parenting skills.

The one chicken sitting by the fence does seem to be taking her duties quite seriously.

All in all, the ladies are doing well. They are happy egg layers, grass fertilizers and bug eaters. I made them a new dust bath area with sand and some DT earth and I still love to watch them shake off, feathers poofing out, no matter how many times I have seen it. They remind me of little lap dogs after jumping out of a kiddie pool.

The heat and humidity of the past week or so has made them a bit more lethargic and they keep to the shady areas of the outdoor space. I have been checking their water, and the water in the chicken tractor, twice a day since it tends to need refilling more than usual on these humid days.

The little chicks in the tractor love feeding time and they devour the bread scraps that I give them along with their grower/finisher feed. They should be ready to introduce to the flock by the middle of August.

Another summer with poultry television.....

Sunday, July 1

My Personal Axis of Evil

Every gardener, whether vegetables, flowers, or both, battles the weeds. Each season they seem to come from nowhere - one day your garden is a beautiful patch of dark brown soil, evenly planted with rows of potatoes, onions and beans. And the next day it seems to have been taken over by hordes of odd looking plants, grasses and winding vines.

How is it that weeds grow so fast and invade on such a grand scale? I find myself out in the garden during any space time I have ripping clumps of various weeds out by the roots. It makes the most satisfying of sounds - when I know I have gotten the root system and you can hear those roots giving up their hold on the soil. But no matter how many I pull, I will always see a row of more to pull as they take over my neat rows of tomatoes. I know it has gotten out of hand when the peas and beans have started attaching themselves to the tall weeds and using them for support.

And just when I think I have gotten things back to a pre-weed state, I let my guard down and they come right back. Sneaky in sending up new shoots under the broccoli leaves where they will go unnoticed until they get established again.

This year, I have three species in particular that have been giving me grief. Two of which I had known for years and have a deep seeded (pardon the pun) hate for: Ground ivy and Catchweed. The third has only shown up here in the last few years but in those few years it has multiplied exponentially: Purslane.

The purslane reminds me of some of those fancy tropical/cactus plants that you buy in the little clay pots at the garden center. The ones that are always near the checkout line and don't cost too much. They have the waxing looking stems and thick, equally waxy looking leaves and they almost look pretty. Getting the little suckers out of the ground is another story.

The root system holds on tight and the branches will snap off rather easily making it hard to be sure you have gotten the whole plant out. It spreads very fast and can cover the whole section of future pumpkin and gourd vine space in the course of a week.

I knew almost nothing about purslane until about a half hour ago when I was looking it up online. Apparently, I should let it grow. This goes against every instinct I have as a gardener. First, people eat it - it is an eatable plant that is said to be very nutritious and deliciously tangy in flavor. I will have to take their word for it because there is no way I am tasting that weed.

Secondly, it turns out that purslane is often grown as a companion plant in the garden in that its deep root system brings up moisture and nutrients for itself as well as for surrounding plants. Corn will extend its root system deeper alongside the purslane in order to push through tough soil and reach water sources. Maybe I should be letting it grow - at least where my corn should be growing. I have no corn this year - none. Maybe the answer is purslane.

I do not like to use the term 'beneficial weed.' It just goes against everything I have learned in the garden. Weeds take food from plants, therefore the plants' growth is stunted and they produce less fruit. Weeds are the enemy. And I hate to admit defeat. Does anyone out there have this purslane problem? Have you gotten rid of it or let it grow? Has it helped your garden?
Ground Ivy
Ground Ivy - the ever-present underlying yard and garden threat. I hear the theme music to Jaws every time I see this plant encroaching on my unsuspecting poppies. It starts so innocently and the little purple flowers do add such a nice little splash of color to a freshly mulched garden. It seems to show up before the majority of the garden flowers start to bloom so the purple is almost welcome just to see a flower.

Then it turns on you.

It starts creeping into every available garden space. Under rock borders and into the tight spaces between the thorny bases of the rose bushes. It comes out easy enough and you can see that you have gotten the root but this plant is like the floating menace that sunk the Titanic - you can only see the 'very tip of the iceberg.' This plant grows on every square inch of my property. It is intertwined in all ears of the lawn and I have constantly fighting to keep it from taking over the flower gardens. It seems to have stayed away from the vegetables this season which is relief - I have enough other varieties to deal with there.

Short of spraying a ton of chemicals, which I refuse to do, there does not seem to be any way of getting rid of ground ivy. I just keep pulling the extensive roots, fighting and gaining back every inch that is has invaded along the garden borders. And there are times when I just let it go. I keep it in check, but I pick my battles.


And we cannot forget what I call the 'Velcro' weed. Catchweed. Again, this one is all over the property, mostly concentrated in the wooded areas and the borders of the yard where the weeds grow up. It is an ambitious climber that I have seen cover the bottom half of a cedar bush with little effort.

Pulling this weed is a sticky and very annoying task and as I am ripping it off of my lilies, I know I am helping to spread the sticky little seeds around as they get stuck to my gardening gloves and plant legs.

They come out of the ground easy enough but they make up for it in their sticking ability and their sheer numbers. It is everywhere and grows fast. As of right now - the end of June - it has almost died off. It turns a sickly looking light brown color and wilts right on whatever it was climbing up when it was green. There is shrubbery here that looks like the dead carcass of some large brown mammal - a lump, completely covered in the wilted mess.

So my Axis of Evil has a possible ally. The purslane could be my personal WWII Italy. Starting out on the wrong side of the garden law but coming around to be a stagnant, but beneficial partner in the war on weeds and flight to keep my dream of growing corn alive. I'll let it go for a bit and see what happens.....